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The Multiple Tab Syndrome in Music

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Component is a section of  Aux.Out. for one-off pieces, special editorials, and lost orphans of the music discussion. Today, Lior Phillips talks about Multiple Tab Syndrome and how that erratic surfing habit has parallels to the way innovators in music conceptualize their work.

Please excuse my pathetic posture, but I’m crushed under the weight of the multiple tabs currently dominating my browser.

Like a penny, the Wi-Fi dropped the other day and reality sunk its fangs in – I stared as the little grey tabs uniformly soldiered together at the top of my window, waiting to be unlocked and reloaded. With both the chaotic corpus of ideas and the wanting to do everything all at once, I realized that I’m a long time sufferer of the Internet ADD generation.

Just the other day, I was listening to multiple songs playing at the same time, a direct result of Multiple Tab Syndrome. I thought I had discovered the Balearic-synth-rock new age song of the day and band of the year – “so experimental!” I thought. You can just imagine my embarrassment when I found out it was a simple layer-cake of songs all mushed up together from across different tabs. In fairness to me, there is such a trend of cross-fertilization in life – from art to culture to the Internet and with half my attention elsewhere, it seems my music ‘mix’ was completely plausible. We seem to need so much information to satisfy us: multiple tabs, TV’s on in the background, constant iPhone checks. The layering and layering of information, for better or worse. And musicians are doing it too.

Electronic music is thought to be more attractive if it merges into dream-pop-synth-psych-rock. It’s the lure of post-industrial-hip-hop fused with genre-bending and image hybridity, drawn from a cross fertilization of external influences. It’s Daft Punk featuring multiple musicians under one roof of Random Access Memory. It’s Arcade Fire adopting multiple guises, using multiple cultural references across multiple media streams. It’s me eating this Vegan-Enpanada with a date-mash.

This kind of innovation can warrant unwanted feelings of musical austerity.

Societies need excessive and constant content and so with every click of the mouse, we pierce the holes deeper into the layers of communication that allow everything and anything to filter in. With the new world of global communications, we’re now exposed to a gaping portal where content can easily pass through and penetrate our time irrespective if we’ve actively searched for a distraction or not. We’re digesting music at such a startling rate that we’re having to spit it out quickly in order to make room for the next bite.

I feel the world has become somewhat musically obese, so it’s time to cut the excess fat, drain it out of our systems, and start consuming quality musical produce. It’s this perfect microcosm of our multitasking-addicted lifestyles that dictate how we behave socially and musically and as this increasing interconnectivity between genres and artists continues – categories are virtually becoming infinite.

Last year showcased innumerable compilations which pave the way for exciting things to happen in 2014, like the exploration into genre-hopping, but the focus needs to be on doing it well and not just creating a tapestry of sounds for content purposes. The trick is to avoid overexposure and clear the history of the musical salmagundi of likes, retweets, covers, and streams. Through this refresh, we’ll be able to set up better parameters for content that’s conducive to our personal productivity levels.

In the past, these social media ‘bad habits’ were to measure a band’s abilities and talents (i.e. a share on a social media site was indicative to gaining musical leverage), so it’s really no wonder artists are hopping from genre to cover to remix, with the same amount of ADD gusto listeners are experiencing. To attempt multiple tasks is simply a new conduit for self-absorption.

infinite music The Multiple Tab Syndrome in Music

Let’s have a quick recap of the concept of Music Modernism first. In fear of butchering the cash-cow of a now familiar tale here, the cultural affect of globalization on music is not just a testament towards a set of techniques and skillsets only, but to a clearer sense of direction as well – this is discussed in Adam Harper’s book, Infinite Music. He argues that the state of progression into multiple genres and styles enhances the way we perceive and imagine the world we live in. He argues, “Modernism is a multi-directional and multi-dimensional process, and there are as many paths toward musical infinity as there are ways of composing and listening.” Yet it’s the imagination that is also accountable as the external/existential influence for blending ideas together.

When we tap our feet to a beat, we’re predicting the rhythm and imagining what’s going to happen next. Experimental music that doesn’t ground itself on a ‘key’, such as African drumming for example, may need an advanced set of ears to imagine the new direction. So it’s safe to say that true experimentation requires skill not only from the maker, but from the listener too. Our culture is frenetically trying to adjust to the enigmatic force of technology where several artists and songs will naturally crossover diverse tastes and influencers, and in doing so we’ll be able to decipher between good quality music and click-bait for content-sake.

Music is one of the few niche activities that can enhance the human imagination, and by widening this realm of our abstract wonder we can accommodate for new, extraordinary, and unusual ideas to seep in. If we want to get out of this Internet-implosion filled with distractions and procrastinations, artists and listeners alike need to start gearing their engines toward developing their very own organic information-firewalls. In doing so we can then begin to imagine what lies ahead of us, instead of becoming drones to what is in front of us. Nothing is as it seems to be anymore – just look at how ‘guitar band’ has recently become two of the dirtiest words next to the phrase ‘open letter’. A new direction of experimentation via genre-crossing or collaborations between multi-instrumentalists could lead to simplifying an overly bloated industry after all. Through this music-inspired imagination, we can construct our own custom-made environment to become more creative.

beck odelay The Multiple Tab Syndrome in Music

Just like plucking a guitar string and watching as it oscillates back and forth, vibrating rapidly until it stops moving altogether, genres need to be pushed and picked in order to cause movement and momentum. Over the last couple of years, house and techno producers started drenching tunes in obscurity, which affected underground dance music like glitch, goa, deep house, prog house causing them to weave into one another. Similarly, modern R&B birthed from soul led to the revival of neo-soul as rhythms gradually entangled and intertwined with one another causing revolution across a multitude of artists, cultures, and generations. Bob Dylan’s album Bringing It All Back Home was the first to blend folk and rock and when Beck’s Odelay came out in 1996, it successfully laid out a smorgasbord of genres. This highly progressive album crossed over conventional musical parameters by fusing multiple genres with one another; from country to hip-hop to funk to hard rock– it blended just about every imaginable genre with intervallic elements that immediately pushed boundaries.

Boundaries are essentially interpreted perceptions, they are quite clearly placed there in order to be crossed. However, advanced experimentation can seem a little creepy – like children singing in a horror movie creepy. Some permutations and hybrids become so deeply experimental and confusing that you can’t describe it with singular phrases anymore. We see it in the plague of the ‘self-descriptor-slash’ that hits me like a cartoon anvil every time I open Twitter – the term Polymaths (a person whose knowledge base and expertise spans across a number of professions) comes barraging forward. Polymaths are essentially working class hybrids. You’re not defined by a singular phrase anymore, suddenly you’re a Writer and Blogger/Stylist/TV Personality.

Both experimentation and perception reference to how people and music operate with a shared set of goals now: both have the need for tactile engagement through volume, repetition, impact, and definable attributes. Without a clear objective (imagination and experimentation aside) quantitatively the clutter will always feel as though it’s clouding quality content.

The rate of musical innovation breeds the rate of musical absorption.

The more we’re ‘plucked’ like the strings of a guitar, the more movement we are able to cause. We’re now submerged into this blended environment of augmented reality and reality by merely layering digital realities on top of real world experiences; the sheer propagation of digital vs. physical media (downloads/streaming vs. vinyl, cassette) allows for us to spread our attention across multiple formats. So whilst we hop across multiple tabs of information, we’re doing so via different mediums too – how confused, stretched, and diluted have our needs become? If ever there was a time to stop and smell the stench of banal overconsumption, it’s now. To loosely paraphrase Frank Zappa: “Punk Rock isn’t dead; it just smells funny.” The whiff of change is here and we need to stop, acknowledge it, and re-shift our focus toward adapting to an information overload, instead of fighting it.

 The Multiple Tab Syndrome in Music

There’s the camp of people who believe that ‘more gives us more’ (the aforementioned slashers) and doing something outside your professed field will inevitably expand your overall potential for knowledge, because you’re stretching it over more platforms. They definitely have a point; just like how music crosses boundaries cross-fertilization has been the source for pragmatic innovation in past decades. What would art be without Cubism and how it explored African carvings? A mobile phone without the ability to take a photograph, stream songs and recalibrate your vehicle via GPS? To rationalize this, I can agree to an extent that having the right amount of knowledge at the right moment in time is key. The gift is being able to only absorb what’s necessary for your own level of personal innovation.

The paradigm of taking one step at a time, opening one tab and focusing on that one task, will forever be a complex feat for humans who inherently need a vast amount of information in order to fuel attention and innovation. Music will constantly evolve across genres, perhaps I was meant to hear all those songs playing at the same time in order to better appreciate the avant-garde/evolved/experimental music I may hear one day. This all of course sounds more philosophical than neuroscientific, but information is created to be enjoyed and aid human evolution, not hinder it.

How we choose to receive it and which pace we decide to absorb it is a responsibility we cannot find a culprit to blame, other than our own necessity to stretch our attention and gobble everything up. We’re exposed to too much content and aren’t able to give it the proper attention it deserves. To compose and recognize music in the future we must see it in terms of its very own fundamental condition – the ability to change and mold itself.

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Lior Phillips is based in Cape Town, South Africa, where she works as a Freelance Wardrobe Stylist & Writer with a firm base in Brand Consulting. She’s been published in GQ, Rolling Stone, and the 405 amongst other outlets. Follow her on Twitter.

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